Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies


Issue 15, Autumn 2009: Article 2


Issue 15, Autumn 2009: Article 2

U.S. Studies Online: The BAAS Postgraduate Journal

Issue 15, Autumn 2009

A Philadelphia Story: Regional Patrimony in The Barnes Foundation and The Gross Clinic Sagas

Jayme Yahr
© Jayme Yahr. All Rights Reserved

Does America ever acknowledge its own cultural patrimony? Or is America always willing to concede that its cultural heritage could be sold to the highest bidder? By examining two art world cases, the proposed relocation of the suburban Barnes Foundation to downtown Philadelphia, and the sale of Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic, 1875, by Thomas Jefferson University, it is evident that a city’s interest in its regional patrimony, or regional cultural heritage, can illicit media attention and rallies of civic pride. On what grounds can a region stake an ownership claim on a body or piece of artwork, especially in America, where the market economy rules? In explaining the concept of cultural heritage scholar David Lowenthal contends:

Heritage denotes everything we suppose has been handed down to us from the past. Although not all heritage is uniformly desirable, it is widely viewed as a precious and irreplaceable resource, essential to personal and collective identity and necessary for self-respect. Hence we go to great lengths, often at huge expense, to protect and celebrate the heritage we possess, to find and enhance what we feel we need, and to restore and recoup what we have lost.[1]

In applying Lowenthal’s definition of heritage to America, it is essential to highlight the concept of collective identity, as well as a need to preserve a historic legacy. These two characteristics provide nations with a strong cultural heritage, although some may argue that America lacks a collective identity, and has done little to preserve a historic legacy. According to cultural property legal specialist John Henry Merryman, the public often takes an interest in cultural patrimony for reasons such as survival, memory, pathos, identity and community.[2] With an extensive number of museums and monuments occupying a wide range of America’s cities and towns, it is obvious that there is human interest in cultural property. Yet questions remain as to why cultural property is hotly contested in America and what sources of interest drive the country’s citizens to rally behind specific cases of cultural patrimony and not others. Merryman addresses these questions broadly by detailing the key sources of human interest in cultural property. Merryman’s first category of cultural patrimony sources is ‘Expressive Value’ under which ‘truth and certainty, morality, memory, survival, pathos, identity, and community’ reside.[3] His second category is ‘Utility’ which encompasses knowledge of the past, wealth, economic value, and pleasure.[4] When combined, these sources form the basis for cultural patrimony, the preservation of cultural property and, ultimately, a large portion of a nation’s (America’s) history and national identity.

Like Lowenthal, Merryman argues that cultural objects can give individuals a sense of both significance and community while fostering cultural memory and a feeling of ‘nostalgia for the people, events, and cultures that produced them’.[5] Moreover, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Mission, cultural heritage is defined as a continuum from past to present. UNESCO’s website explains that, ‘heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on the future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration’.[6] In further defining cultural patrimony, it is essential to note that heritage is not made up merely of paintings or buildings; rather, a historic legacy can include ‘movable cultural objects (archaeological resources, works of art), immovable cultural objects (buildings, monuments and sites), expressive activities (language, and the performing arts such as music, dance and drama) and the intangible cultural heritage (skills, folklore, rituals, religious beliefs, intellectual traditions)’.[7] Merryman also contends that ‘cultural objects are human artifacts’ and therefore a study of cultural patrimony includes a study of humanity.[8] Even though America may lack a collective identity, there is no doubt that the country has intangible, immovable, expressive and historic cultural property.

As a case study, Philadelphia is a prime example of America’s regional interest in preserving a heritage of cultural property. Rich in history and civic sentiment, Philadelphia could be considered culturally self-conscious. Home to over 1.5 million people, Philadelphia also houses the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rodin Museum, Woodmere Art Museum, and nearby the Barnes Foundation. Among America’s largest cities, there are few that can boast of the progressive medical and scientific communities embedded in Philadelphia’s history, or its emphasis on education. Additionally, the city’s architecture and landmarks reinforce an ingrained cultural heritage among residents, institutions, and even the wayward traveler. If Merryman is correct in arguing that ‘the cultural object is an approach to the study of humanity, of ourselves’ then the Barnes Foundation and Eakins sagas could be reflections of Philadelphia’s million-plus population itself, or even a broader view of America’s public.[9] Ultimately, Philadelphia can serve as the testing ground for labeling artwork ‘regionally significant’, and for fostering unity among its citizens to publicly defend and/or save a piece of cultural property controlled by an institution.

The Barnes saga, a Philadelphia story of artwork, education and lawsuits, is a microcosm of America’s cultural patrimony issues, both in terms of a city defining its own cultural property and the country’s inability to acknowledge a difference between an object’s national or regional significance. Further, the Barnes saga is a tale of all seven of Merryman’s ‘Expressive Value’ sources of interest in cultural property, which include community, identity, pathos, survival, memory, morality, truth and certainty. In turn, the Barnes drama is also tied to politics, wealth and tourism, primary signs of the ‘Utility’ of cultural property.

The Barnes story begins with Albert Coombe Barnes, a self-made businessman and avid art collector, born in 1872 Philadelphia to working-class parents. Although trained as a doctor, Barnes made a fortune promoting and selling Argyrol, a silver nitrate solution used to cure eye infections. After establishing financial security Barnes began collecting artwork, and was reputed to have bragged, ‘I just robbed everybody. Particularly during the Depression, my specialty was robbing the suckers who had invested all their money in flimsy securities and then had to sell their priceless paintings to keep a roof over their heads’.[10] After countless buying trips to Europe, Barnes had amassed a collection of modern European works that is widely viewed as one of the most significant modern collections in America.

Plans to create a foundation dedicated to Barnes’s art collection and his educational ideas, which closely followed the philosophical works of John Dewey, came to fruition in 1922 when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania granted Barnes a charter for an educational institution known as the Barnes Foundation, to be located in Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia. Additionally, an indenture of trust was established which, according to Black’s Law Dictionary is ‘a document containing the terms and conditions governing a trustee’s conduct and the trust beneficiaries’ rights’.[11] Barnes’s indenture of trust provided the foundation with an endowment of six million dollars. The Barnes Foundation was governed by a set of specific rules and goals that were enforced by the doctor himself.[12] This included a mission statement that explained the foundation’s purpose, not as a museum, but as an institution which promoted the ‘advancement of education and appreciation of the fine arts; and for this purpose to erect, found and maintain…an art gallery and other necessary buildings for the exhibition of ancient and modern art; and the maintenance in connection therewith of an arboretum’.[13] Only allowing visitors into the gallery two days a week, the admissions policy was strict, and entrance was granted on a case-by-case basis. In his indenture of trust, Barnes stipulated that no artwork was to be sold or added to the collection after his death.[14] Moreover, the doctor installed his private art collection, consisting of roughly eight thousand pieces of artwork including one hundred and eighty-one Renoirs, sixty-nine Cézannes, forty-four Picassos, sixty works by Matisse, eighteen by Rousseau, and fourteen by Modigliani, in the foundation’s building according to his personal beliefs in art display and education. There is no doubt that the Barnes Foundation housed a wealth of cultural patrimony personally selected by Albert Barnes, although the foundation’s identity and sense of community with the Philadelphia suburb of Merion was marred by the doctor’s attempts to push his opinions and educational ideals on others, particularly universities.

Albert Barnes tried to form educational partnerships, on multiple occasions, with his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A partnership between the university, museum and foundation never materialized, and after the partnership with Penn was formally dissolved in 1926, Barnes was pegged as the ‘only man who had ever expelled an entire university’.[15]

After severing ties between the university and his foundation, Barnes released a statement regarding the failed partnership noting, ‘thus ends a melancholy record of inertia, lethargy, disorder, blindness and futility on the part of Penn officials…By their torpor, the authorities have forfeited for the second, and last, time one of the most valuable gifts, educational and material, ever offered to a university’.[16] Once allowed to nominate individuals to the boards of trustees and directors, Penn was relieved of its duties on 20 October 1950 when Barnes amended the foundation’s bylaws. Barnes was interested in leaving the foundation to a university or museum close to Merion, yet when Barnes amended the bylaws to remove Penn, he also excluded Temple University, Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, Haverford, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Barnes believed that most of the educational institutions surrounding the foundation had ties to Penn or to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and therefore should be banned from interaction with his art collection. After an additional attempt to establish a connection with Sarah Lawrence College failed, Barnes settled on Lincoln University, a distinguished African American college located within short driving distance from the foundation. Once Barnes had formally decided to enlist Lincoln University as heir to the foundation’s throne, Barnes amended the bylaws once again, specifying that Lincoln would be allowed to nominate trustees after his death.

Dr. Albert C. Barnes died in July of 1951 at the age of seventy-nine. The estimated value of Barnes’s entire collection of American, European, African, and additional artwork, the nearby farmhouse, as well as the foundation and adjoining arboretum, was estimated in 2003 at over six billion dollars. The identity of the Barnes Foundation was dictated by Dr. Barnes and his educational ideals during his lifetime, yet, upon Albert Barnes’ death, the Foundation became an institution without a strong leader, and continued to alienate the surrounding community. The Barnes Foundation remained in operation in accordance with Dr. Barnes’s indenture of trust, bylaws, and will after his death, yet constant staff changes, multiple directors, dozens of board members, and countless lawsuits continued to disrupt the foundation.

In the late 1980s, with Lincoln University in control of the board of trustees, and Richard Glanton, a Philadelphia lawyer and the university’s general counsel, in the president’s chair by 1990, the foundation began to unravel. Glanton proposed a sale of redundant works from the collection, otherwise known as an effort to mass deaccession. According to the board of trustees, the profits from the sale would be used for facilities maintenance. Howard Greenfeld, a Barnes biographer states:

Though it was customary for American museums to sell works in their collections in order to purchase other works, sales made in order to maintain operating expenses or make repairs to an existing structure were morally, if not legally, forbidden. Furthermore, the Barnes was not a museum but an educational institution, and to alter it in any way would destroy its character as such.[17]

Backlash from the public, as well as various art institutions including the Smithsonian, eventually led to the dissolution of Glanton’s proposal, as selling cultural property, such as artwork, to fund building repairs goes against best practices for museum and educational sites. Another plan concocted by the Barnes’s board of trustees to raise money for the foundation was approved in 1993, subsequently sending a large part of the collection on a two-year international tour to such places as Paris, Munich, Toronto, Texas, Washington, D.C., Tokyo and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Both the proposed deaccessioning and international tour violated Barnes’s original indenture of trust. The roughly twelve million dollars earned from the tour was used to improve the foundation’s main building.[18]

Recalling Merryman’s sources of human interest in cultural patrimony, it should be noted that selling artwork, as in Richard Glanton’s proposed project of the early 1990s, would have stripped the Barnes collection of its original identity and separated a large number of objects from their community, both in a physical sense, and in an emotional sense, as the objects would be forced to function as a fractured part of a larger, distant whole. Glanton failed to recognise the regional significance of the Barnes Foundation, as well as its strong identity, and instead focused on the economic value of the art collection.

After the art collection returned to the foundation in Merion from its world tour, the board of trustees were given an increased amount of freedom by the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas on 21 September 1995 to invest the foundation’s endowment. Moreover, the board was granted the right to hold fundraising events, and open the foundation to visitors three-and-a-half days per week. With the increased public availability of the collection came heightened anger and irritation amongst the surrounding community. Noise complaints, as well as traffic concerns, together with Glanton’s charges of racism against the foundation’s non-supporters plagued what could have been a positive outcome from the international tour and building update. Eight years after accepting the position as president, the trustees declined to re-elect Glanton on 9 February 1998. As maintained by Greenfeld, Glanton’s tenure was ‘marked by bitter and costly controversies. According to Internal Revenue Service filings, from 1992 to 1998 the Foundation, in spite of its financial problems, spent close to six million dollars on litigation’.[19]

Richard Glanton’s successor was Kimberly Camp, an artist, art historian, and arts director who decreased the museum’s $3.3 million deficit, expanded research and publication efforts, and created a membership programme to stabilize the collection, maintain a strong sense of identity, and retain interest in the foundation’s cultural patrimony. Yet, by 2002 Barnes’s original six million dollar endowment was gone, spent by the board of trustees on a car park and additional efforts to preserve the foundation’s buildings. Citing financial woes and continued clashes with neighbors in the surrounding Merion area, the foundation’s board of trustees suggested a break of Albert Barnes’s indenture of trust in September of 2002, with a planned relocation of the foundation to Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia. The foundation’s potential site would be close to the Rodin Museum, as well as Barnes’s longtime nemesis, the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The proposed move would therefore alter Barnes’s intentions for the care and display of his overwhelming art collection, which stated that the foundation was to remain in Merion.

In response to the proposed move of the Barnes Foundation, Greenfeld notes that ‘three powerful Philadelphia-based organisations—the Pew Charitable Trust and the Lenfest and Annenberg Foundations—agreed to pay the Barnes’s legal costs as well as help with at least two years of operating funds, on the condition that the Barnes relocate its paintings’.[20] Moreover, he notes, the foundation would not have been able to raise enough money through the ‘sale of its non-gallery assets to keep the collection in Merion, and [maintain] financial stability’.[21] Yet, why would the move from Merion to Philadelphia be considered advantageous by the Pew Trust, Lenfest, or Annenberg Foundations? Additionally, could the identity, community, and pathos of the Barnes Foundation’s art collection be retained once it is stripped from its original location in Merion and relocated to an urban space in Philadelphia?

It is possible that the Pew Trust as well as the Lenfest and Annenberg Foundations are concerned for the welfare of Barnes’s art collection and the increased viability of the collection in a location such as downtown Philadelphia. It is significant to note, however, that the cable television magnate H. F. (Gerry) Lenfest is the chairman of the board of trustees at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, while Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg is a board member, and Marguerite Lenfest is on the board at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. There is little doubt that the relocation of the Barnes would additionally benefit these charitable trusts/foundations, as they would be closer together in the downtown Philadelphia core. Moreover, the Barnes Foundation’s trustees sought to expand the board from five to fifteen individuals with the Pew and Lenfest Foundations approving nominations of board members.[22] Ultimately the Lenfest Foundation and Pew Trust’s investments in the Barnes were not based merely upon altruism. Their interest in relocation raises questions about control, power and increased assets, both cultural and monetary. Besides the charitable trusts’ involvement in the Barnes’s relocation, both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fines Arts became connected to the Barnes through their board members’ outside interests in foundations and charitable institutions. Although a move by the Barnes would potentially attract more visitors to the city center, equaling greater exposure and increased revenue for each of the museums lined up along the parkway, the art world was generally against tearing the Barnes away from its suburban home or disrupting the culturally significant Merion site, preferring to keep the Barnes intact as a piece of regional cultural property.

In autumn 2004, the Philadelphia Inquirer printed articles describing the obstacles the Barnes Foundation faced, with headlines such as Art World Opposes Move. It was estimated that one hundred and fifty million dollars would have to be raised in order to relocate the foundation. The trustees of the foundation decided that apart from the foundation’s financial problems, the Barnes collection was to be kept intact and to remain available and accessible to the public as a working educational museum. The Lower Merion Township community agreed with the foundation staff that ‘it is more important that the Barnes survive, than it survive in our township’.[23] After many lawsuits, the Barnes Foundation won the right to move the museum to Philadelphia in 2004, and by 2006 it had acquired the one hundred and fifty million dollars needed to move the art collection, subsequently raising its financial goal to two hundred million dollars. Bernard C. Watson, president of the Barnes board of trustees, explained to the Philadelphia Business Journal in May 2006 that, ‘the tremendous outpouring of support we have received within our community has encouraged us to carry forward the momentum’.[24] Further, Rebecca W. Rimel, the president and CEO of the Pew Charitable Trust, which donated twenty million dollars to the Barnes cause, explained in regard to the foundation’s attainment of their financial goal that, ‘Philadelphians have proven to the world that we are a city that values the arts and shares Dr. Barnes’ vision that these works of art should be seen by everyone’.[25]

While the Barnes Foundation continued to raise eyebrows in the art world for its plan to relocate from the suburbs to downtown Philadelphia, Kimberly Camp announced her resignation, effective 1 January 2006. Camp’s successor, Derek Gillman, who took control in August 2006, announced upon accepting the Barnes directorship that:

In moving to The Barnes Foundation, I greatly look forward to working with Dr. Bernard Watson and other members of the Board to realize the dream of Albert Barnes and John Dewey of establishing an educational institution that contributes to the whole nation. Thanks to the massive generosity of a number of benefactors, The Barnes Foundation is ready to re-engage vigorously with that vision—of using one of the world’s great collections of modern art to serve the goal of a more inclusive and democratic society for all Americans.[26]

A fact that would have met with Dr. Barnes’s disapproval, Gillman was previously the director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In need of a supportive director who could weather the storm of moving the foundation out of Merion, the Barnes board explained that ‘it was only “happenstantial” that Mr. Gillman led a Philadelphia institution (prior to accepting the directorship of the Barnes)’.[27] When asked if the Barnes Foundation’s artwork would eventually be integrated into the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gillman answered ‘no,’ declaring, ‘The Barnes is moving to become fully self-sustaining. That’s the whole purpose. It will be the master of its own fate’.[28]

Despite a new leader and the Barnes board’s attempts to become self-sustaining, the foundation remained deeply entangled in courtroom battles. The dramatic saga continued with an attempt by Montgomery County to keep the foundation in Merion. Montgomery County, where the Barnes is located, offered to buy the foundation’s buildings and land for fifty million dollars in June of 2007.[29] Tax-exempt bonds would be used for the purchase, with money made off of interest to build an endowment.[30] Eight days after the proposal was made, the Barnes board of trustees rejected the offer, no doubt in response to Montgomery County’s previous disinterest in the Barnes case.[31]

As 2007 continued, turmoil ensued and Philadelphia’s cultural patrimony became a hotly contested topic. Lawyers were hired and fired on all sides of the case and countless trips to court were made. The Barnes Foundation staff pushed forward with their plans to relocate, soliciting designs for the new Benjamin Franklin Parkway building. From a group of six finalists, including architects from New York, Los Angeles, Spain and Japan, the New York husband and wife team of Billie Tsien and Tod Williams were chosen. Again, amid controversy, the foundation did not release preliminary sketches for the building. The downtown site, home to a juvenile detention center known as the Youth Study Center, is located between 21st and 22nd Streets. The new building will be three times larger than the foundation’s current home. The site, under a 99-year lease to the Barnes Foundation, awaits groundbreaking, as the move was again stalled in September and October of 2007 by the Friends of the Barnes, a group of individuals dedicated to keeping the foundation in Merion.

The Friends, founded in 2004 after the original ruling to move the Barnes Foundation, claim that the ‘proposed relocation of the Foundation would do irreparable harm, and that its present financial difficulties can be solved, its integrity preserved, and the public interest served, by available alternatives’.[32] In September of 2007 the Friends filed a petition in Montgomery County to have the relocation ruling of 2004 re-examined. According to Susan Greenspon of Main Line Times, the court was unaware of the one hundred and seven million dollars in tax payer money set aside by the state to aid in the foundation’s relocation, which essentially made clear the fact that the Pennsylvania public was paying to uproot their own cultural property.[33] The court asked the Friends to file a brief within thirty days of the 19 October 2007 hearing and the foundation to file a brief in response to the Friends’ petition, thirty days after the first brief was filed. Yet, two weeks before the Friends’ brief was due, they fired their lawyer in an argument over the brief he had prepared, in addition to a dispute over fees.[34] In response to the change in legal counsel, the Friends were given an extra sixty days to file, which ultimately occurred on 29 February 2008, and was countered the same day with a brief by Montgomery County. Nearly one month later, on 20 March 2008, the Friends replied, once again, to Montgomery County. With lawyers on all sides of the case fighting for the right to dictate the future of Philadelphia’s cultural property, one wonders if the relocation plan would irrevocably alter the Barnes Foundation, which is a site and ensemble of artwork that cannot fully be removed from Merion. Even though relocation may increase tourism in downtown Philadelphia, an effort to ‘save’ the foundation might ultimately destroy it.[35]

While the Merion soap opera played out in the Philadelphia press, Albert Barnes’s longtime enemies, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, found themselves entangled in another web of cultural patrimony controversy. On 10 November 2006 the board of Thomas Jefferson University, a medical school in Philadelphia, voted to sell The Gross Clinic, 1875, a painting by the American artist Thomas Eakins. Owned for the last one hundred and thirty years by the university, which bought the work in 1878 for two hundred dollars, Eakins’s painting depicts a leg operation performed by Dr. Samuel D. Gross.[36] Sold jointly to the soon-to-be-opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., the painting’s price tag was sixty-eight million dollars. Crystal Bridges, founded by Alice L. Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress purported to be worth over sixteen billion dollars, is scheduled to open in the near future, with the possibility of opening its doors to the public in 2010.[37]

Following Walton’s purchase of Asher B. Durand’s painting Kindred Spirits, 1849, from the New York Public Library in 2005 for thirty-five million dollars at a sealed bid auction, the Philadelphia community was faced with another impending loss of a cultural relic.[38] The university was said to be ‘aware of what a masterpiece (they had in their possession)’, yet claimed their mission was to ‘educate doctors and health professionals’, explaining that, ‘we simply felt the money would be more useful if it went toward developing our campus’.[39] Even though the New York Public Library was willing to part with a piece of cultural property, they (at least) acknowledged the significance of the sale.

Like Durand’s Kindred Spirits, The Gross Clinic embodies a distinct historical legacy. Depicting Dr. Samuel Gross wielding a scalpel in front of a large audience while removing dead bone from the leg of a patient in a Jefferson Medical School amphitheater, The Gross Clinic is no doubt entwined in the history of both the university and the career of the artist. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) is considered to be the city’s prodigal son. A rebel within the art academy system, Eakins was forced to resign as an art professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for removing the clothing of a male model in an 1886 co-ed classroom. According to the art historian Henry Adams, The Gross Clinic heightened Eakins’s rebel persona, as the painting was ‘rejected from several exhibitions and has always played a central part in his mystique as an unjustly persecuted figure’.[40] Yet, the painting was revolutionary for the American nineteenth century as it was not only controversial, but also paralleled Eakins’s career, which ran from cold to hot to cold again. As Henry Adams explains,

Today Eakins is widely regarded as the greatest nineteenth-century American painter, while his large, dark, grim canvas of surgery, The Gross Clinic, which was greeted with distaste in the artist’s lifetime, has been elevated to the stature of “the greatest American painting”. In Philadelphia Eakins has been transformed from a pariah to a local hero. Jefferson Medical Center now houses an “Eakins Room” where the artist’s medical paintings are enshrined in a dark chapel-like interior where spotlights pick out each portrait; the Philadelphia Museum of Art devotes a room to his work; and the prominent traffic circle in front of the museum carries the name Eakins Circle in his memory.[41]

The Gross Clinic represents Eakins’s interests as an artist and his ability to create multiple portraits within one canvas, as well as Philadelphia’s medical and cultural history. The sale of the painting to Crystal Bridges and the National Gallery would strip away the cultural context and rich medical history surrounding Eakins’s work. Much like the debate over the relocation of the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia was forced to rethink its regional cultural patrimony. Should The Gross Clinic remain in Philadelphia and the Barnes be removed from Merion? Should Philadelphia centralise its cultural patrimony to boost the economics of a museum row?

As mentioned above, Walton’s Kindred Spirits acquisition was met with general disdain by the art world, and therefore, to avoid angering Philadelphia’s cultural institutions, and possibly because she recognised the cultural importance of the painting, she gave the city forty-five days to match the sixty-eight million dollar price tag and keep Eakins’s work in Pennsylvania. One week after the proposed sale was made public the Fund for Eakins’ Masterpiece was established in a joint effort between the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Anne d’Harnoncourt, then director of the Philadelphia Museum, acknowledged that the museum’s acquisition budget was too small to buy the painting therefore, ‘this is a citywide effort (to keep Eakins’s work in its hometown)’.[42] By 30 November 2006, roughly twelve days after the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art embarked on a campaign to keep the painting in its home location, twenty-three million dollars had been raised. Reiterating her earlier sentiments about the Eakins Fund being a citywide effort, d’Harnoncourt declared that ‘it’s a community effort,’ while deeming The Gross Clinic ‘an icon for this city, a masterpiece that sums up all of Philadelphia’s strengths then and now’.[43]

As the countdown continued, the number of donations increased. On 15 December 2006 D’Harnoncourt declared that ‘1,600 gifts from 30 states had been received’ noting that ‘this is a wild moment…this is about saving a Philadelphia icon’.[44] Although not all Philadelphians agreed that the sale of The Gross Clinic was worth media attention or the fund-raising effort, there is no question that the issue struck a regional patrimony chord. Like Albert Barnes, Eakins was a native son, and his artistic vision, whether liked or disliked, was a product of Pennsylvania. Individuals less concerned with the Eakins sale argued that both the artist and the painting’s subject, Dr. Samuel Gross, were ‘great Americans, not just great Philadelphians’.[45] But where can the line be drawn between a city’s or state’s patrimony and a country’s patrimony? Without a Pennsylvania state law in place to guard the region’s ‘icons’ or ‘relics,’ as in the cases of the Barnes and The Gross Clinic, the city must work continuously to avoid potential loss, possibly by buying and saving the regional patrimony that becomes available on the art market.

By the end of January ownership of The Gross Clinic was passed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; a piece of Philadelphia’s cultural patrimony saved. Only one-half of the sixty-eight million dollar purchase price proposed by Walton and the National Gallery was matched by Philadelphia’s institutions at the time of ownership transfer. Major donations from such arbiters of regional patrimony as The Annenberg Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, H. F. (Gerry) Lenfest, and Barnes Foundation board member Joseph Neubauer intensified the link between the Barnes and Philadelphia’s art institutions while entangling the interests of the charitable foundations, trusts, and individuals connected with the city’s art circle. Even though large donations were made to the Eakins cause, ‘bridge financing at the settlement was provided by Wachovia and PNC banks, with each art institution assuming responsibility for half the debt’, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.[46] In other words, each institution assumed fifteen million dollars in debt to pay for a piece of regional cultural property.

Besides the debt incurred to save the Eakins painting, Philadelphia was shocked to hear how the Pennsylvania Academy quickly increased its acquisition budget. Two days after the 30 January 2007 Gross Clinic transfer of ownership, the Academy made public its sale of Eakins’s The Cello Player, 1896, to a private collector, a painting that had been on view since 1897. The Academy board vice chairman explained that the sale of The Cello Player, which depicts cellist Rudolf Henning playing his instrument, was given ‘long and careful and agonizing consideration…our board did not undertake this lightly’.[47] One question raised in discussions of the Academy’s sale (which was also raised throughout the Barnes drama) is whether or not deaccessioning could be justified within the larger scope of regional patrimony. Elizabeth Johns, an Eakins scholar, noted a link to the city’s quest for regional patrimony when she stated, ‘The Cello Player had a charisma and was most definitely tied to the rich cultural history of Philadelphia’.[48] In this case, is the act of selling one Eakins to save another, or trading one piece of cultural patrimony for another, justifiable? In reply to the outcry, Academy officials released a statement contending that the sale would greatly reduce the large amount of debt assumed with the purchase of The Gross Clinic, while Thomas Jefferson University described how profits from The Gross Clinic sale would be used to create an Eakins Legacy Fund for scholarships, professorships, programmes and renovations, a statement that, although truthful, did little to explain the effort to save one piece of cultural patrimony while giving up another.[49]

When the news of the Academy’s sale of Eakins’s The Cello Player was made public, attention was turned to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Would the art museum also sell paintings to offset Gross Clinic debt? When asked in mid-December of 2006 if the museum would consider selling works of art from its collection to reduce its debt, d’Harnoncourt had no comment, but by the beginning of February 2007 she stated that the museum would likely sell artwork to lessen the burden of debt the institution had assumed, noting, ‘we are looking very seriously at deaccessioning’.[50]

Continuing the trend to cash in artwork to provide current income, Thomas Jefferson University made public its interest in selling additional Eakins paintings just three months after The Gross Clinic entered the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Portrait of Benjamin H. Rand, 1874, was sold just four weeks later in April 2007 to Alice Walton, the heiress behind the original sixty-eight million dollar Gross Clinic deal. Estimated at twenty million dollars, both Philadelphia institutions were made aware of the sale in advance, but neither had the funds to save the painting from a move to Arkansas.[51] The portrait, a representation of Doctor Rand sitting at his desk, is now bound for Crystal Bridges with a temporary stop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

On 24 April 2008, one year after the sales of Portrait of Benjamin H. Rand and The Gross Clinic, the Philadelphia Museum of Art announced the sale of Eakins’s painting Cowboy Singing, 1892, and two 1887 oil sketches for Cowboys in the Badlands, to the Denver Art Museum and the Denver-based, private Anschutz collection. The estimated total for the three works is said to be between eight and ten million dollars, a price tag that offsets remaining Gross Clinic debt.[52] Commenting on the museum’s decision to deaccession artwork, d’Harnoncourt said, ‘we’re heaving a deep sigh. This is it. Now we can celebrate’.[53] Yet, is there a reason to celebrate? In terms of cultural patrimony, the The Gross Clinic’s Philadelphia identity and sense of community were saved, yet five works of art, also considered to be pieces of Philadelphia’s cultural patrimony, were sold to ‘save’ The Gross Clinic, further splitting public opinion on the topic of regional cultural property while entangling the interests of collectors, museums, board members and foundations.

In the Barnes Foundation and The Gross Clinic sagas, two Philadelphia cases of cultural patrimony, the city and the country are divided. Many believe the relocation of the Barnes would be a blatant disregard of Albert Barnes’s interests while showing disrespect for the unique history of a local cultural icon. On the other hand, many believe that creating a museum row in Philadelphia will strengthen the region’s grip on its cultural holdings while increasing tourism and fostering a sense of unity amongst the city’s art circle. In the case of The Gross Clinic, sentiments were less wide ranging. The general consensus was that Eakins’s The Gross Clinic should be kept in its hometown, although the sale of one Eakins to keep another caused many to wonder if Philadelphia was truly concerned about regional patrimony. As a city willing to critically consider its cultural history, Philadelphia has relied most heavily upon four of Merryman’s proposed sources of public interest in cultural heritage to navigate the media storm surrounding the Barnes Foundation and The Gross Clinic: memory, community, identity and pathos. These sources of interest in cultural patrimony continue to be relevant as the Barnes Foundation prepares to relocate. Ultimately, there is no doubt that Philadelphia is a touchstone for a possible cultural heritage reverberation across America, yet what pieces of cultural patrimony Philadelphia will pass down to future generations remains to be seen.

University of Washington, Seattle


[1] David Lowenthal, ‘Natural and Cultural Heritage’ The Nature of Cultural Heritage and the Culture of Natural Heritage: Northern Perspectives on a Contested Patrimony, ed. by Kenneth R. Olwig and David Lowenthal, (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 79.

[2] John Henry Merryman, ‘The Public Interest in Cultural Property’, California Law Review 77: 2 (March 1989), pp. 347-349.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations, ‘About World Heritage’, [online posting] accessed 23 February 2008; available from

[7] Lyndel V. Prott and P. J. O’Keefe, ‘Discovery and Excavation’, Law and the Cultural Heritage, 5 vols (Abingdon, Oxon: Professional Books Limited, 1984), I, p. 7.

[8] Merryman, ‘The Public Interest in Cultural Property’, p.342

[9] Ibid.

[10] John Anderson, Art Held Hostage: The Battle Over the Barnes Collection (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), p. 3.

[11] ‘Trust, Indenture’, Black’s Law Dictionary (St. Paul: Thomson/West, 2005), p. 638.

[12] Chris Abbinante, ‘Protecting “Donor Intent” in Charitable Foundations: Wayward Trusteeship and the Barnes Foundation’, University of Pennsylvania Law Review 145: 3 (January 1997), p. 669. ‘A foundation may be defined as a nongovernmental, nonprofit organisation having a principal fund of its own, managed by its own trustees or directors, and established to maintain or aid social, educational, charitable, religious, or other activities serving the common welfare’, pp. 678-679.

[13] David Zucchino, ‘Great Art Framed by Turmoil’, The Los Angeles Times, 3 September 2002, p. 2.

[14] Abbinante, p. 671.

[15] Howard Greenfeld, The Devil and Dr. Barnes (Philadelphia: Camino Books, Inc., 2006), p. 121.

[16] Greenfeld, pp. 249, 279, and Anderson, p. 45.

[17] Greenfeld, pp. 110-111.

[18] Abbinante, p. 674. See Kyle York Spencer, ‘Reopening a Struggle for Barnes’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 11 November 1995, p. B1. Spencer notes that the $12 million in renovations included a high-tech security system, improved lighting, access for the disabled, fire protection and climate control.

[19] Greenfeld, p. 111.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Anderson, p. 221.

[23] Bernard C. Watson, ‘The Barnes Foundation: There’s More to the Story’, The Barnes Foundation, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education at West Chester University, 24 October 2004, 3. Available from <>.

[24] Peter Van Allen, ‘Barnes Foundation Raises Fund Raising Bar’, Philadelphia Business Journal, 16 May 2006.

[25] Peter Van Allen, ‘Barnes Foundation Achieves Fundraising Goal’, Philadelphia Business Journal, 15 May 2006.

[26] ‘The Barnes Foundation Announces Appointment of Derek Gillman as Executive Director and President’, The Barnes Foundation, press release, 7 August 2006; available from

[27] Carol Vogel, ‘The Barnes Stays Local in Selecting Its Leader’, The New York Times, 8 August 2006.

[28] Ibid. See Jim McCaffrey, ‘Barnes Friends: Foundation Move is Part of Conspiracy’, The Bulletin, 28 August 2007, for a detailed account of the possible conflicts of interests between the members of the Barnes board of trustees and their business ventures. Additionally McCaffrey details suggestions that the Barnes may be incorporated into the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

[29] Jim McCaffrey, ‘Montco’s Barnes Offer Stuns’, The Bulletin, 13 June 2007.

[30] Randy Kennedy, ‘New Bid to Prevent Barnes Move’, Arts Briefly, The New York Times, 15 June 2007.

[31] Jim McCaffrey, ‘Barnes Rebuffs Montco Offer’, The Bulletin, 21 June 2007.

[32] Friends of the Barnes Foundation, ‘Who are ‘Friends of the Barnes Foundation’?’ (online posting) accessed 15 February 2008; available from

[33] Susan Greenspon, ‘Barnes Experience Can Not Be Duplicated’, Main Line Times, 19 September 2007. See Cheryl Allison, ‘It’s Not Over Yet’, The Main Line Times, 25 October 2007, and Diane Mastrull, ‘A Barnes Hearing With Fireworks on the Side’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 October 2007.

[34] Diane Mastrull, ‘New Lawyer Means Delay in Barnes Suit’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 22 December 2007. See Jim McCaffrey, ‘Friends of Barnes Fires Its Attorney’, The Bulletin, 18 December 2007.

[35] In fall of 2009 two important events took place in relation to the Barnes Foundation saga. The Art of the Steal, a documentary recounting the history of the Barnes Foundation, directed by Don Argott, was screened at the Toronto Film Festival on September 12, 2009. Following the screening and release of Argott’s film, architects of the new Benjamin Franklin Parkway Barnes building released their design plans. According to Philadelphia Inquirer Architecture Critic Inga Saffron, in her column dated October 6, 2009, the new urban Barnes building and location will retain some of its eccentricity, noting, ‘formally, the building can be seen as three planes, sliding against one another, in an eternal quest for architectural nirvana.’ She explains that ‘rather than embalm the replicated Merion building in the center of the larger structure, the architects place the long container front and center, facing the parkway as a free-standing structure…visitors will have to wend their way through the gardens, designed by Philadelphia’s Laurie C. Olin, to enter through a second, L-shaped structure that houses the museum extras the Barnes has always craved: special exhibition galleries, offices, a conservation laboratory, café.’

[36] Diane Mastrull, ‘New Lawyer Means Delay in Barnes Suit’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 22 December 2007.

[37] Lee Rosenbaum, ‘The Walton Effect: Art World Is Roiled By Wal-Mart Heiress’, The Wall Street Journal, 10 October 2007.

[38] Carol Vogel, ‘Eakins Masterwork Is to Be Sold to Museums’, The New York Times, 11 November 2006.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Dinitia Smith, ‘Eakins the Tormented? A Biographer’s Dark View Ruffles the Field’, The New York Times, 21 May 2005.

[41] Henry Adams, Eakins Revealed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) p.25. See also Amy Werbel, Thomas Eakins: Art, Medicine, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007); Martin A. Berger, Man Made: Thomas Eakins and the Construction of Gilded Age Manhood (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); Kathleen A. Foster, Thomas Eakins Rediscovered (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997); John Wilmerding, ‘Philadelphia. Thomas Eakins’, The Burlington Magazine, 124: 954, (September 1982), p. 583.

[42] Vogel, ‘Eakins Masterwork Is to Be Sold to Museums’, The New York Times, 11 November 2006. In Vogel’s article, Christie’s auction house asked to broker the sale of The Gross Clinic declared its sensitivity to the regional patrimony debate, by noting that the painting is a ‘civic treasure that is so entwined in the history of Jefferson’.

[43] Ben Sisario, ‘Campaigning to Keep an Eakins Painting in Philadelphia’, The New York Times, 18 November 2006.

[44] Carol Vogel, ‘A Countdown For Eakins Painting’, The New York Times, Arts, Briefly, 30 November 2006.

[45] Carol Vogel, ‘A Fight to Keep an Eakins Is Waged on Two Fronts: Money and Civic Pride’, The New York Times, 15 December 2006.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Stephan Salisbury, ‘To Fund “Clinic,” a 2d Eakins Sold’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1 February 2007.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Carol Vogel, ‘Philadelphia School Sells a Second Eakins’, The New York Times, 12 April 2007.

[53] Carol Vogel, ‘Philadelphia Raises Enough Money to Retain a Masterpiece by Eakins’, The New York Times, 24 April 2008.